Lockheed Martin delivered an Airborne High Energy Laser (AHEL) to the United States Air Force (USAF) in preparation for ground testing and flight testing aboard the AC-130J Ghostrider gunship.

The AHEL primarily underwent factory acceptance testing before it was delivered to the USAF, Lockheed indicated on October 6, 2021.

“Completion of this milestone is a tremendous accomplishment for our customer,” said Rick Cordaro, vice president, Lockheed Martin advanced product solutions. “These mission success milestones are a testament of our partnership with the U.S. Air Force in rapidly achieving important advances in laser weapon system development.

The AHEL is undergoing rapid testing under a contract awarded by the USAF to Lockheed in January 2019 to integrate, test, and demonstrate the system onboard the AC-130J Ghostrider fleet. Even though the system is undergoing operational and functional testing on the AC-130J, Cordaro indicated that the technology was ready for fielding already.

According to Lockheed, the US Navy is also interested in the AHEL system, with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, awarding a five-year and $12 million worth indefinite-delivery contract in July 2021 for technical services, integration, test, and demonstration of the weapon.

Lockheed has been focusing on developing laser-based weapons over the past few years under the United States’ first laser weapon program. 

The specifications of the AHEL are unknown, but it is speculated that its intensity is the same as that of the High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance (HELIOS) currently being developed by Lockheed for the US Navy destroyers.

Lockheed is also involved in several other laser-based solutions for the USAF, including the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) system.

The AC-130 is the ground attack and heavily armed gunship variant of the C-130 Hercules heavy transport aircraft with an extensive combat history dating back to the Vietnam war. The arsenal of its latest variant, the AC-130J Ghostrider, includes a precision strike package with 30mm and 105mm cannons, GBU-39 small diameter bomb, GBU-69 small glide munition, AGM-114 Hellfire, and AGM-176 Griffin missile.